Wreaking – James Scudamore
Wreaking is a stunning novel of madness and decay. Ostensibly this is the story of three people connected by a mental hospital called Wreaking on the South East coast of England. Cleo moves into Wreaking with her father when he buys the decommissioned hospital, with dreams of renovation. Soon she meets Roland and Oliver, two more teenagers with less than conventional parents. However an incident in which Cleo loses an eye destroys all the relationships and fractures the futures of each protagonist.
Beyond the story of the individuals though is the story of the hospital itself, how it’s tyranny affected some and its rot affected other, over the decades its decay reaches out and destroys and twist all those still connected to it. As a study into madness this book is gripping. There are times when you wonder if everyone in the book is mentally ill but you start to realise that the behaviour of some characters is purely environmental. In a different upbringing, with different parents, life could have been very different for the children involved.
As good as the story is the writing is better. ““And in spite of all my best efforts, the grounds are still dotted with incongruous objects: walking frames, bathing chairs, a shoe or two (but never in pairs). The hospital contents have seeped outside as if in pursuits of the patients.” This is the third book from Scudamore and is worthy of as much praise as can be thrown at it.
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Terra – Mitch Benn
As a baby Terra is kidnapped by an alien who believes her life is at risk and takes her home, to be raised as his own daughter. Being the only human can be a pretty alien experience but Terra overcomes all obstacles with the help of her friends and new father. When war breaks out the cultural beliefs of all sides are challenged and as Terra gets caught up in the conflict everyone starts to see a different way of behaving .
Terra is a first novel from Mitch Benn. Better known as a comedian, Benn has ventured into writing, prompted by his experience of becoming a father. Although Terra is a sci fi – cross over, comedy novel it is also is a rather lovely tale of a father’s love for his daughter.
The problem with the book is deciding who the audience is. If aimed a children this book is fine, if aimed at adults it seems laboured. I would easily recommend this as a nice story for a child but I just think it would grate as you got older.
Jonathan Grimwood – The Last Banquet
Set in pre-revolutionary France D’Aumont introduces us to himself at the age of about three, sitting in a garden eating beetles and dying of malnutrition. His parents have died and the local peasants have raided his home of its possessions and food and left him to die. He is rescued by Le Regent who feeds him roquefort and hangs the villagers. So begins a novel of hunger. Having been born an aristocrat he is taken in and cared for by an aristocratic system and he quickly makes friends with France’s elite families. Through these eyes you see a country that is gradually devouring itself. The rich are becoming more and more vapid and indulgent; the poor are getting hungrier and resentful.
D’Aumont is described as an orphan, a soldier, a diplomat, a spy, a lover and a chef but it forgets to mention zoo keeper which adds a lovely companionship to the latter half of the story. D’Aumont lives his life through taste before sight, sound or emotion. At times his efforts to discover new tastes will leave the reader feeling distinctly queasy as he loves to taste humans as much as animals and plants but this is not a tale of cannibalism. Indeed the book is full of recipes but there may not be many you would want to try.
The Last Banquet has been compared to Suskin’s Perfume and the comparison is valid, however as this is not a translated text, the writing seems somehow more vibrant. By the end of the book you can’t help but feel that if France had been peopled by a few more eccentrics like D’Aumont it may have never torn itself apart.
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White Dog Fell From the Sky – Eleanor Morse
This is the story of Isaac Muthethe, a promising young medical student who is forced to escape from South Africa to Botswana, smuggled in the base of a coffin. He arrives with no papers, no money and no contacts and the only thing interested in him is a small white dog that comes to investigate the body dumped out of a hearse. The year is 1977 and apartheid is in full control in South Africa. Isaac cannot return home to his family and has to come to terms with all that he has lost and how to start again.
From nothing, Isaac meets up with Alice, a white woman at odds with her life and marriage in Botswana, who takes him on as her gardener. He also bumps into an old school friend who is now part of the ANC. Through them and through the people that they know Isaac’s life is permanently altered. Beyond the separate stories of Isaac and Alice’s trials is the sense of a changing Botswana, of old ways being lost or “improved” by overseas academics and politicians.
In this book there is much pain and cruelty and yet the book is not depressing or introspective. It focuses on hope and how people cope and survive through setbacks and massive traumas. Morse has a beautiful writing style and whilst the story meanders along, occasionally we pause at little tributaries, marvelling at a tiny observation and then continue on again. This is a very fine book that will ultimately leave you inspired.
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Paris – Edward Rutherfurd
You know where you are with an Edward Rutherfurd novel. You’re on a plane or a beach or enjoying a week of nothing to do. That isn’t to dismiss Rutherfurd but to acknowledge that his books are huge and deserve time and space to be appreciated. It’s best that you have got time and space because you will very quickly get hooked and then all other plans go out the window for days and weeks. His latest book is Paris and follows four families from the twelve hundreds up to the swinging sixties. Throughout the centuries, the fortunes of each family rises and falls and intersects with each other, each time in a new way. To add to this enjoyable rhythm, Rutherfurd does not tell the story in a linear sequence but flits back and forth through time. When tragedy strikes in the past you wonder how on earth the modern day branch of that family managed to recover. Slowly all is revealed. The bulk of the story follows three generations from 1875 to 1940 with historical flashbacks giving greater depth to the story.
Cunningly we find ourselves absorbing French history without being bored or dictated to and this is partly because Rutherfurd doesn’t focus on the main event, the crushing of the Knights Templar or the French Revolution, but instead looks at the repercussions such dramatic events had on the way people had to live their lives in the aftermath. Rutherfurd has always been well known for fleshing out the bones of a city and readers will find Paris just as engaging as London, Sarum or New York.
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Stephen King – Joyland
Joyland has been written for a new imprint “Hard Case Crime”; aiming to bring readers hard boiled crime, it has a very ’50s noir sense of pulp fiction pulling together new commissions and lost classics. This book certainly has the feel of a lost classic from King himself. Although it is a crime story, a serial killer in a carnival, King adds his normal twists with reports of a haunting from a victim that can’t let go and a dying boy that needs to help free her.
This is a wonderful return to old school King. All the familiar characters and themes are there; the coming of age protagonist, the sick child with a special talent, the beautiful, out of reach girl, the knowing elder, a serial killer and a carnival set in the 1970s. What makes this title special is that the writing is fresh and the storyline zips along. For people that have found recent King novels to be quite lengthy and thoughtful this will make a refreshing change. At only 285 pages there is nothing here but action and suspense. I loved it!
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The Grim Company – Luke Scull
A new fantasy saga set in a society coping with the fallout from the destruction of the gods. The war between the wizards and the gods resulted in the wizards gaining control and the bodies of the gods leaking wild magic all across the ravaged lands.
This is an interesting idea as so often in fantasy sagas, the battle between the wizards and gods seems to be the conclusion of the book. By showing the aftermath of such a battle the author opens up a whole new area of disaster fiction. The writing is earthy, the scenario is bleak and blood thirsty and will appeal to fans of a more meatly style of fantasy.
Personally it didn’t do it for me. If cliches don’t cause you to wince you’ll be fine, the ideas are good.
Available March 1st 2013
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter – Malcolm Mackay
A confident, new gritty noir thriller based in gangland Glasgow.
Callum is a hitman and has been hired to kill Lewis Winter, all he knows is that it will send out a message to someone. The problem is that the people who have hired Callum also don’t know who the message is for. Poor Lewis Winter is simply the first shot across the bows to persons unknown who are trying to muscle in on territory.
The story unfolds simply and quickly. MacKay’s writing style is brief, fluid and fresh and it gives us little more than pencil sketches of personalities and plot. However, it all starts to interweave building up a story far greater than simple stereotypes suggest.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, given that a gang land novel just didn’t appeal but then good writing can make anything interesting! Try it for yourself.
Available Jan 17th 2013
Blue Fish – Pat Schmatz
When Travis joins his new school it’s clear that something is wrong in his life but he keeps his head down and tries to ignore everyone. However, he can’t ignore Velveeta who finds him intriguing and so she tries to find out what makes him tick.
It would be easy to see this as a predictable novel of friends united against an unfair world but something in the writing makes this a simple and touching tale of innocence trying to cope with an adult world of poverty, low expectations and alcoholism. It has a positive message and a positive ending and leaves you feeling a little bit heartbroken but also very happy and hopeful.
This is one of those books that will be read very differently by children and adults. For children it is reassuring and redemptive, adults will be hit by the hopelessness of poverty and the narrowness of life expectation for some children. Nonetheless it really is a nice book!
Good for boys and girls, 10+
A supernatural thriller set in the Court of Elizabeth 1st. This unusual book draws on two famous characters from Elizabethan England; the renowned Dr Dee, famous magician, astrologer and academic and Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s great love. In this book the two men are friends and set off to Wales to find a rare scrying stone. However, they get caught up in local tensions as a murderer is brought to trial who has channelled the spirit of a long dead Welsh rebel.
Extra spice is added by a plot to kill Dudley to prevent him marrying the Queen. Rickman always writes with a great sense of atmosphere and in this book ancient and modern evils collide in a brutal conclusion.
So I managed to finish this book but I was disappointed. Rickman used to write really excellent supernatural thrillers, try Crybbe for a good example, but this was just daft. Far too many coincidences were relied on to drive the plot forward and too many deus ex machinas were wheeled out to save the day. Sorry.